According to the Maine Courts, there are multiple decisions that parents who do not reside together must consider about the children after a divorce or legal separation. These may include the following questions:
- Where will our children reside?
- How will we make important decisions about raising the children?
- How will each of us be involved in our children’s lives?
- How much time will each of us spend with our children?
- How will we financially take care of the children?; and
- Who will be responsible for uninsured medical expenses or claiming the children as dependents on tax returns?
If possible, children and parents should make these decisions cooperating rather than requesting the court to decide.It is usually in children’s best interest to maintain meaningful contact with each parent. The court can get involved if parents cannot make these decisions independently.
Furthermore, the court decides parental rights and responsibilities for both married and unmarried parents based on what is in the child’s best interest. This is the legal standard in Maine law. The best interest of the child takes into consideration many factors. Above all, the court must first consider the child’s safety and well-being. The court examines other factors as well, such as:
- The age of the child;
- The relationship of the child with each parent;
- The child’s preference, if the child is old enough to express a preference;
- The stability of living arrangements;
- The capacity of each parent to cooperate with the other parent;
- The existence of domestic violence between the parents; and
The entire list of factors may be located in the Maine Revised Statutes section. The court applies the best interest of the child standard in a divorce by listening to testimony and reviewing admissible documents and other relevant evidence.
What Will be Included in the Court’s Order Deciding Parental Rights and Responsibilities?
In Maine, three parental rights and responsibilities (decision-making) arrangements exist. The court decides which type will be part of an order in a divorce: shared, allocated, or sole. The most common is “shared” parental rights and responsibilities. This means:
- Parents have equal rights and contributions on major issues for their children; and
- Parents must make major decisions together, and both parents have access to records regarding their children.
Those major issues include education, religious upbringing, medical, dental, mental healthcare, travel arrangements, child care arrangements, and residence. In “allocated” parental rights and responsibilities, the court may divide the responsibilities for different aspects of children’s lives between the parents. An example of allocated decision-making is that one parent is assigned the right to decide the children’s religious upbringing, while another parent is assigned the right to decide where the children will attend school.
Moreover, in some cases, the court awards “sole” parental rights and responsibilities. Sole parental rights and responsibilities provide one parent exclusive authority in decision-making about the children’s upbringing. The parent not granted any parental rights and responsibilities may be responsible for paying child support. An appropriate parent-child contact schedule varies on several factors, which may consist of the following:
- The age of the children and whether they are in school;
- The level of caregiving that each parent has provided;
- Where the parents live about one another;
- Special medical or developmental needs of the children; and
- Whether there has been domestic violence in the home.
Moreover, the Maine Courts describe what a typical parent-child contact is. A parent-child contact schedule may be different for an infant than for a 13-year-old child because children’s needs change as they age. For instance, it may be appropriate for young children to have shorter but more frequent contact with a non-primary resident parent. But for older children, it may be appropriate to do fewer, longer visits, generally with overnights, that involve fewer transitions throughout the week.
Lastly, some parents work out a schedule that permits parents to spend equal time with their children. Generally, this involves parents who live close enough to make this schedule work and have a good co-parenting relationship. Considering what holidays and vacations are most important to you in preparation for mediation if ordered by the court.
Is There a Difference Between Parental Rights and Responsibilities and Visitation?
Visitation allows a parent to visit with their child, but the parent does not have the right to make major decisions about the child’s well-being. When the judge grants one parent sole parental rights and responsibilities, the other parent will often receive visitation rights. In domestic violence cases, the judge may permit the abusive parent visitation if safety precautions are taken.
For instance, the judge may order the visit to be supervised by another family member or that the visit occurs at a counselor’s office. If the judge permits a family or household member to supervise the visits between your child and the abusive parent (or is a convicted child-related sex offender), the judge must set conditions that must be followed during the visits. For example, the judge can:
- Limit circumstances when the family of the abusive parent would be supervising visits;
- Ensure that it does not damage the relationship between the child and the non-abusive parent;
- Safeguard the well-being of the child; and
- Mandate that supervision is provided by a person who is physically and mentally capable of supervising a visit and does not have a criminal history or history of abuse or neglect.
Can Another Relative Apply For Parental Rights and Responsibilities?
A child’s relative (or any other third party) can usually only be granted parental rights and responsibilities if the court holds that living with either parent would put the child in danger of serious abuse or neglect as defined by law or if both parents are deceased.
Furthermore, the Women’s Law Organization states that if the child is currently the subject of a child protection hearing where the state is trying to have the child removed from the parents’ care because the child is in danger of harm, a relative can petition the court to be named an “interested person.”
The relative may require a substantial relationship with the child or a substantial interest in the child’s well-being. A relative who is an “interested person” may be awarded parental rights and responsibilities if the court discovers that it would be in the child’s best interest to be placed with that relative.
The court can order that your and your child’s address remain confidential. If you are afraid for your safety if the other parent has your address, make sure to inform the judge. They can order the necessary precautions to keep you and your child safe. For instance, in addition to maintaining your privacy, the judge can order that you and the other parent exchange the child at a different location than your home.
Generally, both parents can access their child’s medical and school records, even if the child does not reside with the parent. However, the court can deny a parent access to the child’s records if the judge believes that access would not be in the child’s best interests (when the parent has been abusive, for example) or if the parent wants access for causing harm to the other parent. If you are concerned for your safety if the other parent can access the child’s records, you can request the judge to deny the other parent access.
When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
If you reside in Maine and are dealing with a child custody issue, do not hesitate to contact your local Maine child custody attorney to assist you with the process. Your attorney can provide guidance and representation for your case.